#profile-container h2.sidebar-title {display:none;}

Chapter III -- 5

We now turn to the persons of the Trinity in the Evagrian system. Some of what is said is quite unclear and our interpretation is conjectural in those cases.

Unique is he who is without mediation, and this One, in return, by intermediaries is in all (I, 12). The Unique is he before whom no other being has been engendered, and after whom no other being has to any further extent been engendered (IV, 16). We believe that this refers to the Father. The doctrine of intermediaries in the first passage echoes Origen’s own doctrine of the Trinity in Peri Archon. The second chapter might be construed to be based on Origen’s doctrine in Peri Archon that the Son, and, a fortiori, the Holy Spirit, are creations of God the Father, although they too are God. Of course, in Plotinus, ‘the One’ is, if we may put it that way, the highest form of reality.

The uncreated is he to whom, because he exists by his essence, there is nothing that might be anterior (VI, 5). This refers to the Father.

The Unity is it which now is known only by the Christ, and is it of which the gnosis is essential (III, 3). This certainly refers to the Father. It would be a mistake to think that this was just an odd way that Evagrius had of referring to the Trinity. Again we see a parallel with Plotinus, although, as far as we know, Plotinus did not have a doctrine of ‘essential gnosis’. In general, the more contemplative and mystical aspects of Evagrius’ thought, as opposed to its cosmological aspects, seem quite similar to the doctrines of Plotinus. One can see this in the next chapter:

The first nature is for the One, the second towards the One, and the same in the One (V, 85). The One is the Father. The Monad or Unity is explicitly identified by Evagrius with the Father: The Father alone knows the Christ, and the Son alone the Father (Matt. 11, 27), the Christ as unique in the Unity and the Father as Monad and Unity (III, 1). The meaning of first passage is that the reasonable beings were created ‘for the One’; the bodies that they received after the Movement and the First Judgement[1] were given so that they might progress ‘towards the One’; and the reasonable beings will be ‘in the One’, as naked minds (noes) once again, in the Restoration. We will discuss what it means for the Christ to be unique in the Unity in the section on Christology.

The Father is considered before the Son insofar as Father, before the Spirit insofar as Principle; and he is anterior to the incorporeals and corporeals insofar as Creator (VI, 4). As far as it goes, this seems perfectly Orthodox. However, we think that the interpretation that Evagrius gives to these relations is different from how an Orthodox would understand the words. We will see what Evagrius has to say about the Word of God when we discuss his Christology. However, the following chapter manifests this concerning the relation of the Father to the Holy Spirit, and perforce, therefore, concerning the nature of the Holy Spirit in the Evagrian system:

The symbol of the dove which has appeared to the Baptist of the baptizable—is it that it is in the first contemplation, or in the second or in the third? And, again, if it is possible that the Unity might be imprinted in a form like that, still there is a danger that we might make that known openly; but you will correct this symbol among the gnostics (IV, 27). The first contemplation is the contemplation of the Holy Trinity. The second contemplation is the contemplation of the angels. The third contemplation is the contemplation of created objects or, better, the reasons (logoi) of those created objects. Evagrius’ rhetorical question is therefore about the symbol of the dove which descended on Christ’s head at his Baptism in the Jordan. Does it symbolize gnosis of the Unity, the Father? Does it symbolize gnosis of the Holy Trinity? Does it symbolize gnosis of a reasonable being such as an angel? Does it symbolize gnosis of the reason (logos) of a created object?

Underlying Evagrius’ thought is his doctrine of the mental representation (noema) which in contemplation imprints an intelligible reality on the mind (nous), thus purveying the related gnosis to the mind (nous).[2] Evagrius is doubting whether the gnosis of the Unity, a strictly intelligible reality, can be transmitted to a mind (nous) in the sensible form of a dove—for recall from the Gospel that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus ‘in bodily form as a dove’.[3]

Evagrius is implicitly identifying the Holy Spirit with the gnosis of the Unity in this passage. This identification can also be seen in Skemmata 5:

5 The Christ is a reasonable nature having in himself that which is signified by the dove that alighted upon him [cf. Matt. 3, 16].

As we shall see under the topic of Christology, below, Evagrius is in Skemmata 5 referring to the essential gnosis of the Unity: that is what makes the Christ, the Christ. Evagrius is asserting that the Holy Spirit is essential gnosis of the Unity; that essential gnosis of the Unity is what he understands to be symbolized by the dove that descended on the Christ at his Baptism;[4] and that is why he can raise the question whether ‘the Unity might be imprinted in a form like that’, that is, in the form of a sensible dove. But we shall see that Evagrius also identifies the essential gnosis of the Unity with the Word of God.

It is clear that Evagrius’ notion of ‘symbol’ here makes it ‘sacramental’: the dove conveys gnosis of the Unity to the Christ; as a symbol, the dove has a much stronger connection to what is symbolized than a mere picture.

Is Evagrius concerned about the ontological status, however, of the symbol of the dove, or about the ontological status of that which is symbolized—the Holy Spirit?

The second sentence of the passage of the Kephalaia Gnostica under consideration indicates that Evagrius is hiding his plain meaning. The reference to imprinting by the Unity, the Father, in that sentence indicates that Evagrius views what descended on Christ in the Jordan to be the gnosis of the Unity, not, as the Cappadocians would have it, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. We ourselves see in this passage a tendency of Evagrius to subordinate the Holy Spirit to the Father or to treat it as an emanation or even gnosis of the Father. But he has left the matter very ambiguous.

Is Evagrius denying the divinity of the Holy Spirit? Evagrius does say this in his Scholia on Ecclesiastes 36:

I think that he who promises upright faith and who says that one of those from the Holy Trinity is a creature delays, and that he who professes to confess that all things have come to be by means of God and who again introduces automatism delays; and concerning the other dogmas, similarly.[5]

This scholium clearly rejects the notion that the Holy Spirit is created. However, it might be remarked that in Peri Archon, Origen also had a similarly ambiguous Trinitarian theology: the three Persons of the Holy Trinity were indeed God, but the Son and the Holy Spirit were ‘creatures’: they were God but the relation of engendering between the Father and them was intermediate between full identity of substance and outright creation. This would be similar to the Neoplatonic hierarchy of emanations starting from the One.

Before the Movement, God was good, powerful, wise, Creator of incorporeals, Father of the logikoi and omnipotent; after the Movement, he became Creator of bodies, Judge, Governor, Doctor, Pastor, Merciful and Long-Suffering, and even Door, Way, Lamb, High Priest, along with the other names which are said by modes. And he is Father and Principle even before the genesis of incorporeals: Father of Christ and Principle of the Holy Spirit (VI, 20). The Movement is a central concept in the Evagrian cosmological system; we shall discuss it separately in the next section. The significance of what is said here is for Evagrius’ doctrine of God. When Evagrius speaks of something as existing or happening by modes, he means contingently, in creation.

In the present chapter, all the epithets applied to God after the Movement are epithets normally applied to the Christ. This is not accidental: we shall see that after the Movement God works exclusively through the Christ.

The Father is the generator of essential gnosis (VI, 28). The Father is he who has a reasonable nature which is united to the gnosis of the Trinity (VI, 29). The Father is he who has a reasonable nature which is united to the contemplation of beings (VI, 30). We are not sure how to put these three chapters together. The first seems to make of the Father the generator of the substance of the Holy Trinity—for the Holy Trinity, according to Evagrius, is essential gnosis—but the second and third seem to make of the Father something like an angel: they might be referring not to God but to something like a human spiritual father or, in Evagrius’ terminology, a gnostic.

Engendered is that which has been engendered by something, as by a father (VI, 31). Engendered is that which has been engendered by something as by a creator (VI, 32). The first ‘engendered’ means ‘begotten’; the second ‘engendered’ means ‘created’. Professor Guillaumont considers that the two words, the same in Syriac, are based on two different words in the original Greek, with the meanings given.[6]

The right of the Lord is also called hand, but his hand is not also called right. And his hand receives increase and decrease, but that does not also occur to the right (II, 12). The hand is the Christ, through whom God works. Elsewhere, we learn that the ‘right’ refers to the Unity, the Father: The anointing either indicates the gnosis of the Unity or designates the contemplation of beings. And if more than the others Christ is anointed, it is evident that he is anointed with the gnosis of the Unity. On account of that, he alone is said ‘to be seated at the right’ (Mark 16, 19) of his Father, the right which here, according to the rule of the gnostics, indicates the Monad and the Unity (IV, 21). He who alone is seated ‘at the right’ of the Father alone has the gnosis of the right (II, 89). This is the uniqueness of the Christ in the Unity that is referred to in KG III, 1, above.

previous | Table of Contents | next

[1] See Section 2, below.

[2] We will discuss this notion is great detail in Volume II, especially in the commentary on the last chapters of On the Thoughts.

[3] Luke 3, 22.

[4] See KG IV, 21 and II, 89, discussed below.

[5] Ekklesiasten p. 122, ll. 16–19. ‘Delays’ here means ‘errs’ or ‘sins’; Evagrius’ diction depends on the passage of Scripture he is interpreting. ‘Automatism’ is the doctrine that the creation is the spontaneous work of chance.

[6] See the footnotes to the relevant chapters in PO 28, 1.


Post a Comment

<< Home